The Creative Minds Behind Echo’s Designs

Leslie Dessner and Meg Roberts, creative director and design director for home and handbags, respectively, are key players in the company’s creative direction.

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Consider any Echo design — whether it’s scarves, handbags, towels or linens — and chances are Leslie Dessner and Meg Roberts had a hand in it.

This story first appeared in the September 23, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Echo Design Group’s creative director and its design director for home and handbags, respectively, are key players in the company’s creative direction, and both demonstrate a deep understanding of the house’s ethos centered around print, color and pattern — no surprise, really, considering they each boast significant tenures, with Roberts having been a part of the Echo team for the last 32 years and Dessner for 20.

They concurred that creativity is key to the company’s strength and ongoing growth.

“It’s the foundation for design that we have here,” said Roberts, who is married to Steven Roberts, the grandson of Echo’s founders who is its current chief executive officer. “We are first and foremost a design house. We have this love for print, pattern and color, which we are so strong at. When there is a true integrity of design, you can take that and apply it to so many different areas, and, at some point, we felt that with our core strengths, we wanted to diversify.”

Dessner added, “As we diversified, we stayed true to our passion for pattern and color. We made sure we brought people on board that could speak our language and convey our message through product. We have many talented designers here.”

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This keen focus is an important ingredient in the company’s success. Today, both balance references to the house’s impressive archival prints with new ones they regularly develop.

“There are consistencies that we have, like clarity of pattern and color,” Dessner said. “There is this consistency to attention to detail, from the way the pieces are printed to the fabric they are printed on, how they are finished and how they are trimmed.”

Roberts had already worked at Echo for two years — as a painter and textile designer doing custom scarves for museums — before marrying into the family.

“At the time, Echo had no art studio at all,” she recalled. “The designing was done in studios around the world, and the team here would buy artwork, but none of them were trained artists. So I said, ‘Look, think of me as a painter, but I can do a lot things.’ I ended up coming here in product development and then we started having designers on staff.”

Dessner, meanwhile, had also come to Echo through the arts, which she had studied at college. She started at Echo as an assistant to one of the print designers, as a colorist, a role she recalled “was actually quite amazing, to just paint colorways all day.”

Today, determining how to bring consistency across the numerous categories is a key consideration for both executives.

“Well, the plate and the bag are two very different things, which is really my biggest challenge as the keeper of the Echo key,” Dessner said, laughing. “Certain categories are much more seasonal — certainly women’s accessories is more than home — so we have to make sure that while we always want to look beautiful and colorful and current, we don’t want to be too ‘trend’ so that it’s over in a minute. We work to ensure a good balance. Timeless design is something that we always think about. We have to make sure we bring this special Echo-ness to the product, where things seem very beautiful but approachable, and timeless as well as timely.”

The Echo assortment has grown considerably since the early days when it was just scarves. Today, it includes cold-weather classifications, outerwear, handbags, swimwear, beach towels and designs for the home in areas like bath, bedding, tabletop and wallpaper.

“The opportunities are endless,” said Roberts. “We are on the brink of a lot of things. We happen to just be launching a wall art collection, which is very different for us. There are a lot of categories that we can get into. We do window treatments already. We don’t have furniture yet, but that is an area we are definitely interested in. We love innovation.”

By that, she was referring to several items that have particularly gained momentum in recent years, from the touch gloves, heat-radiating yarn for cold-weather pieces, gloves with linings fused with aloe beads, phone cases and more — even Bluetooth speakers and phone chargers. Both agreed that the possibilities are infinite with good design.

“You could be projecting wallpaper on a screen and change it from day to night,” Roberts noted.

As Dessner sees it, “Five years ago, I never would have dreamed of doing speakers and phone cases, so for me, it’s exciting to not even know what we’ll be doing five years from now. We were joking that maybe there will be contact lenses with our patterns in them. And to think it all began with scarves.”

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